West 28th Street
Everything is coming up Brigid Kaelin: Fresh off her guest turn with hero Elvis Costello last week at the Palace, Kaelin’s excellent new album, West 28th Street, hit Louisville in limited release this week. Her fun, quirky personality shines throughout, starting off with the naughty-yet-vulnerable “I Did Something Bad,” in which she confesses that her good-girl image might not be 100-percent accurate.
The entire album is filled with such emotional honesty and glimpses into a left-of-center view of the world that is refreshing and endearing, all delivered in a stripped-down, Americana-meets-pop (with an occasional dash of jazz) style. There’s not a bad track in the bunch, but one highlight is “Sunday Afternoon,” a sparkling proclamation that life should be fun and should be lived for the day. It includes the hilarious and telling line, “I’ll be your June Carter, if you’ll be my one-night stand.”
Kaelin, perhaps best known for her guest spots playing accordion and musical saw with numerous other performers, proves in fine form on West 28th Street, sounding every bit a confident person and performer — good girl, bad girl or otherwise. Great things lie ahead for this one. —Kevin Gibson
Death Cab for Cutie
Did you hear about the girl who’d only date guys who’d been diagnosed as psychotic? She’d shrug and say, “At least you can be sure they’re into commitment.”
I’d like to hook her up with Death Cab bandleader Ben Gibbard — especially after this disc, it’d clearly be an interesting match. Narrow Stairs improves on Plans, the group’s successful indie-to-major transition. Now they’ve got increased confidence and take on a relationship song-cycle. The skewed sequence starts at “Bixby Canyon Bridge,” a segmented gem of rueful aftermath. Straight after is a magnetic extended take on obsessive desire, “I Will Possess Your Heart.” Then the songs shorten up — and you don’t need a libretto to read the subtext about pursuing (and reinterpreting) being more important than having.
With inevitable sadness clearly telegraphed, expectations fall into place — and Death Cab knocks ’em down handily. The set’s only a bit too single-minded, as the pop-rock metaphors let up only for two minutes of drop-to-the-truth keyboards: I’m starting to feel/we stayed together/out of fear of dying alone. —T.E. Lyons
DJ Joe Dubb
It’s getting hot out again, school’s adjourned, and you’re looking for your soundtrack for the summer. Look no further than Louisville’s own DJ Joe Dubb’s newest mixtape, Heatwave 2008.
Split into two halves, The Party and The Coolout, I’m reminded that I’m getting older as I listen to The Party. Because I’m much older than the 18-24 demographic much of this half is geared toward, Skyscraper Stereo is the most promising hip-hop group in town, and last year’s River City Ransom was one of my sleeper albums of the year (the Carrie Underwood-sampling “Louisville Slugger” should have been a regional hit — genius). Their “Tops Down” contribution closes out The Party side with the clever double-entendre anthem.
The Coolout side is much more suited to my tastes with the jazzier, Tribe-Called-Quest-influenced cuts, like Native Sun’s “Sound Basics” and Happy Daze’s “Hands Up.” Jamili Brown’s “Summer” is reflective about seasons past, and is a highlight, with the driving acoustic guitar adding to the breezy mood. Alyson Joyce’s “Feel So High” ends the set with one of the lone R&B tracks, and I’m left wanting to hear more. —Damien McPherson
Home Before Dark
When Rick Rubin decided to apply his creepily magical touch to the sagging-to-the-loafers career of Neil Diamond, many youngsters who can’t remember life before Johnny Cash covered Nine Inch Nails probably didn’t even pay attention. Really, is there anything less sexy than a Nice Boy?
On 12 Songs, his first agreement at letting Rubin rub his beard all over Neil’s melodramatically sung songs (more John C. Reilly than Leonard Cohen), old Neil sounded tentative at times. Like his new audience — people who actually listen to music critics and/or ignore their mothers — Diamond probably couldn’t believe that the cool kids were letting this once mighty singer-songwriter back in the house.
Having pulled it off, Diamond actually comes back this time stronger, bolder … dare I say sexier? From the first song on, one can even hear a Nick Cave influence! (Mutual, I’m sure.) His lyrics are thoughtful, as deep as the lines in his face and the part in his toupee, his voice assured, and his band of Heartbreakers and Oldham/Pajo collaborator Matt Sweeney is top shelf. —Peter Berkowitz
Emmanuel Jal has a story that will rip your heart out. A Sudanese child soldier, he was taken from his family by the age of 6 or 7 (he has no idea when he was born, even) and thrown into the Sudanese rebel army. Two civil wars later, he found himself smuggled out of the country by aid workers, and on to Kenya and London, school and church. While in Kenya, he first encountered and became a fan of rap music. Warchild is his second album and will be followed up by a book and documentary of the same name.
This isn’t a review of his life, but his album. Warchild is billed as rap, every piece of press and biography says as much, but to these ears, it plays like a Linton Kwesi Johnson album, spoken-word reggae. The album was produced by Bahamian producer Roachie, and bears his signature throughout. It’s an interesting listen, but bears more resemblance to Wyclef Jean cast-offs than anything. “Forced to Sin” is a powerful tale, and probably the highlight. His story is profound, and I’ll be sure to read his book, but the disc does his tale no justice. —Damien McPherson
This follow-up to 2006’s Enter finds Russian Circles steering you through their world of sonic desperation and penchants for aggressive storytelling.
Judging this on mood is a no-brainer: Russian Circles know how to create mood and feeling. Fans of Sigur Ros, Don Caballero and Tool, which Russian Circles opened for in Europe last year, will think Station is a familiar scheme.
While Dave Turncrantz’s ambidextrous drumming shines through over and over (see “Harper Lewis” for details), Mike Sullivan could experiment more with his guitar tones, and bassist Brian Cook is sandwiched between the two, keeping them glued together.
So, do you want it? Depends on your level of patience. Chicago bands have been doling out the bizarre and cinematic for eons, and Russian Circles are the latest ones to do it. —Mat Herron